The Ballplayer

With one swing yesterday, David Thompson mashed a ball over the left field fence, drove in three runs, and pulled the Mets into a tie with the Astros. The game didn’t count, and it ended in a tie, so you might say that what David Thompson did yesterday really didn’t matter. But you’d be missing the point.

In the grand scheme, sure, you might call it a meaningless game. But there’s negativity associated with thinking that way, as if what David Thompson did yesterday — taking a fastball moving faster than a car, turning it around, and hitting it over a fence 400 feet away — is somehow diminished. It was a Spring Training game, against a pitcher of little note in Kent Emmanuel, but it was a home run in big-league camp on MLB Network. To David Thompson, I’ll bet it meant a lot.

There’s not much public information on David Thompson, besides what we already know. The Mets drafted him in the fourth round of the 2015 Draft — after the Yankees, incidentally, drafted him in 2012, and he decided not to sign — and sent him to Brooklyn, and he’s worked his way through the minors ever since. He was injured for most of 2018, and only appeared in 25 games, most with the Las Vegas 51s. In 2017, at Binghamton, he hit 16 home runs. He broke Alex Rodriguez’s statewide record for home runs in a Florida high school career. He does not, as far as I can tell, have a Twitter account.

David Thompson, it seems, is just another ballplayer, not a star, likely destined for a career as a journeyman or a minor leaguer, playing the children’s game for as long as he can. He might well debut for the Mets this season — especially given the way our infielders are dropping like flies  — but he may never play in a World Series. He may never sign a million-dollar contract. And he may never hit a major league home run.

Or maybe there’s some star power hidden in that minor league career, and maybe Thompson will come up and not go away. Maybe he’ll bash like he did against the Astros yesterday, and 20 years from now, at his number retirement ceremony, we’ll be arguing about which third baseman named David was better. It’s unlikely, but this was all so unlikely already. David Thompson, you have to think, grew up dreaming about the day he’d step to the plate as a professional baseball player in a big league uniform and drive a ball over the fence. Yesterday, against odds too long to comprehend, that day came. A meaningless game for the fans and the broadcasters, no change in the standings. But for the man who took the swing that tied it, the most meaningful game in the world.

I wanted to find out more about David Thompson, so I found his Instagram page. He has 276 followers. 273 of them I don’t know; the other three are Jeff McNeil, the Mets, and me. Since April 25th, 2018, he has posted six times.

First, there’s a video of a practice session in the cage. Then a screenshot of an article: “Mets 3B prospect David Thompson has hairline hand fracture.” His caption reads, “a frustrating part of the game. Working hard to get back!” Then, a few months later, a video of a slow-motion swing, apparently part of recovery, captioned “one day at a time.” Then his nephew turning two last September, standing in the grass and holding a wiffle ball and a bat. After that, on Valentine’s Day, another nephew also turning two, this time sitting in some sort of outdoor pool scowling happily at the camera. And after that, one last post. Two hours ago.

It’s a fuzzy, black-and-white shot of Thompson in the middle of his his home run swing. “Getting back into the swing of things,” he’s captioned it.

A meaningless game, yes. But it fits right in on David Thompson’s shelf, between nephews’ birthdays and recovery from surgery. We don’t know whether he will ever wear a Mets uniform at Citi Field. He’s 25, playing a young man’s game and quickly getting older, doing something he’s almost impossibly good at, but still maybe not good enough. He’s a ballplayer. Yesterday, in the midst of a game that didn’t matter to most of us, he drove a fastball over the fence and trotted around the bases as cameras from MLB Network filmed him. Tomorrow, no one but David Thompson will remember it, except maybe his nephews. Now he’s got a story he can tell them until he’s 100. Meaningless game? No such thing.

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